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It stands atop a slight rise facing Highway 127. Its alabaster exterior evokes a picturesque portrait of a country church waiting to usher a community of believers into a worshipful haven. Though small, the vestibule has the honor of both welcoming visitors and members; and is a place at the end of a service for handshaking as the congregation adamantly declares approval of the sermon.
For almost 100 years, the small, white church has faithfully served the community of Poplar Grove in northern Owen County.
Like most churches in the county it holds a place of honor, and the earliest memories of many an Owen countian revolve around the church and the vital impact it had upon their lives.
As the current pastor, Owen countian Tom Hall makes his way up and down the aisles, he brings the word of God to the hungry souls gathered in the sanctuary. At times, Bro. Tom removes his suit coat and his tall, lanky form, reminiscent of a basketball player, takes on the aura of an Old Testament prophet. He interlaces God’s judgement with his love and grace, and offers the chance for salvation to all those who are called.
Like many communities, Poplar Grove was settled early in the 1800s. According to an article written in 1880 and published in the Warsaw Independent newspaper, Poplar Grove at one time was divided into two towns known as upper and lower Texas. None of the elderly Owen County residents from whom I inquired had ever heard Poplar Grove referred to as “upper and lower Texas.”
However, according to this article, whose author is known only by the initials RSJ, “lower Texas consists of one dry goods store, one drug store, and one blacksmith shop.
Upper Texas consists of one hotel, one drug and grocery store combined and one blacksmith shop. About midway between these two towns is situated the Baptist church with a seating capacity of 500 persons and our school house calculated to accommodate 100 pupils, at which Mrs. Ettie Noel will teach for the ensuing term.”
The article went on to say that Crouch and Brock purchased a new engine for their sawmill and are contemplating erecting a grist mill which will be of a great advantage to the community.
Many will remember Poplar Grove names such as Elhanen Forman who owned a drug store which also housed the post office. Elhanen sold his business to Lummie Kemper and his wife Ella. John Cloyd, Gip Perry, and Ottis Jett ran a huckster, and “Uncle” Jim Kemper had a small one room store which served the community for many years.
Charlie Ford and his family also went into the grocery business and were quite successful for awhile.
Tragedy struck Poplar Grove in 1921 when Catherine Adkins’ oil stove exploded, burning their house and the slaughter store. The flames from this fire sprinted down the road to destroy the store of Clarence Coates.
Dr. Stackhouse, a Poplar Grove doctor who practiced around the 1860’s, was replaced by the well respected Dr. Yancy. He and several of his patients died in 1900 of the influenza. Sam Jett was the village blacksmith and Claude Beatty owned a pool room and bowling alley.
Perhaps one of the best loved Poplar Grove residents was the Rev. J.A. Lee.
He was a pastor, an evangelist, a hymn writer and patriot. When Owen County boys set off to World War I, the Rev. Lee presented each one with a dollar upon which was written the departing soldier’s name. The erection of the war monument in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Owenton is also due to the tireless efforts of the Rev. J.A. Lee. Owen County Historical Society charter member Verna Katherine Payne recalls the trips to Poplar Grove Cemetery with her grandparents on Memorial Day each year. “Rev. Lee would stand in the cemetery and preach a stirring sermon while his young daughter, Snowdye, would play hymns on a small traveling organ.”
Early names in Poplar Grove still echo in the little white Baptist church on Highway 127. Yancey, Hearn (Hearne), True, Kemper, Stewart (Steward, Stuart). Many more are etched in the stone monuments in the cemetery across the road; and these names are forever preserved in their descendants.
Owen County churches, its communities, its people and the stories they share, intertwine with one another to present a lasting memory of Owen County history. Our rich traditions are the cornerstone upon which to build our future.
Don’t forget to join the historical society Feb. 14 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. for Big Jim’s Spaghetti Dinner at the I.O.O.F. Hall. If you prefer not to RSVP, just stop in and have supper with us. It will give you a chance to enjoy good food, converse with our special dinner guest, Abraham Lincoln and support the historical society. The cost is $7 for the meal.